Every week of the NHL season you can find a column here on everything that may not be making headlines yet — but probably should be.
The NHL is in a bit of an odd state coming off a series of games in Sweden and entering a week with two game-less days.
Whether the schedule is regular or not, there are always plenty of unusual trends and odd outcomes around the league, which is what we aim to examine here.
In this edition of Under the Radar, we begin with the type of individual drought we've rarely seen in the last 19 years:
The greatest power-play threat in NHL history isn't so threatening
There's no disputing that Alex Ovechkin is the greatest power-play threat in the history of the NHL. He tops the power-play goals leaderboard by a considerable margin and recently became the first player in league history to score 300 times on the man advantage.
With his 300th career power-play goal, No. 8 is finally on the board this season. 👏 pic.twitter.com/SfiYXh21M0
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 24, 2023
That's an impressive accomplishment, but it's notable that he hasn't done anything on the power play since then as part of a pitiful Washington Capitals unit (7.0% conversion rate).
Ovechkin is tied for fourth in the NHL in PP shots with 23, a solid number considering he was 10th in the league by that metric in 2022-23. His power-play shots per 60 (18.1) are also up from last season's total (16.8).
The 38-year-old simply hasn't been able to turn his opportunities into goals. Part of that is probably luck, but his one-timer has also lost some heat. According to NHL Edge, his top shot speed this season is 96.68 mph, a significant drop from 2021-22 (101.52) and noticeably below 2022-23 (97.83).
Discussions around Ovechkin's goal record chase have often centered around the idea that the Russian superstar can continually blast in power-play goals even as he slows and becomes less impactful in 5-on-5 situations. It seemed like a fair assumption for a guy who's averaged 17.2 PPGs a year over his last 10 seasons, dropping below 13 just once.
If that part of his game slows, it will affect his prognosis significantly. It's too early to assume that's what we're seeing, but Ovechkin is planting the seed of doubt.
Goaltending is as confusing as ever
Because of the wild variance in NHL goaltending results from week-to-week, month-to-month, or even season-to-season, it's often tempting to simply accept that it's something most of us aren't capable of understanding — or at least projecting with any confidence.
The exception to that idea tends to be truly elite goalies. So far this season, that hasn't been the case.
If you take a look at the top 10 netminders in the NHL by GSAA last season, the majority are struggling — or at least performing worse than their tandem partners — in 2022-23.
Ullmark, Oettinger, and Shesterkin have been solid, but out of last season's 10 best goaltenders, not one of them is producing above-average results while performing significantly better than the other netminders that benefit from the same team defense they do.
This trend will likely change to some degree as the season goes on, but this snapshot in time is yet another reminder that our collective understanding of goaltending remains limited at best.
Mikheyev's comeback story overshadowed by teammates' video game numbers
Considering the Vancouver Canucks enter Monday with three players — Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, and J.T. Miller — sitting atop the points leaderboard it's tough for other guys on the roster to get much shine.
That said, Ilya Mikheyev deserves a bit of recognition for how he's performing less than a year removed from ACL surgery.
The fact that he's back competing at all is notable, but he's also been a productive depth scorer for Vancouver's league-best offense. While six goals may not seem like much, it's excellent output for a player who logs just 14:15 per night and rarely plays on the power play.
Mikheyev is tied with Alex DeBrincat for the NHL lead in 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes (2.15), and he's doing so with a shooting percentage that is a touch high but not massively inflated (19.4%).
It's not unreasonable to assume Mikheyev could get stronger as he puts his surgery further in his rearview mirror. He's also getting some run alongside Pettersson at 5-on-5 right now, and if that continues he could be on his way to an impressive season.
It's worth keeping an eye on the Flyers' second pair
When you think about the best defense pairs in the NHL its unlikely Nick Seeler and Sean Walker leap to mind.
Both players have reputations as solid blueliners, but neither is a household name — and they hadn't played together until this season after Walker joined the Flyers in the Ivan Provorov trade.
Despite the duo's relative lack of star power, they have been excellent in 2023-24. Not only are Walker and Seeler both on pace for career-highs in points and ice time, the pair has excellent possession numbers.
No defense pair that's played at least 10 games together has a higher shots for percentage (63.70%) or expected goal rate (63.32%).
Seeler and Walker are helping drive surprising success in Philadelphia, and they'll be interesting names to watch as the season goes on because both are unrestricted free agents following 2023-24.
If the Flyers falter in the weeks to come, both could fetch a solid price at the trade deadline. If Philadelphia keeps rolling, extension talks may get underway.
MacKinnon and functional speed
When the NHL released its player and puck-tracking data, there were some surprising results, particularly when it came to the top speed leaderboard.
The current top 10 in the league by that metric — Rasmus Kupari, Ryan McLeod, Martin Necas, Zach Werenski, Adrian Kempe, Brayden Point, Nikolaj Ehlers, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Morgan Barron, and Sam Lafferty — is a cohort that includes a few stars, but it's not a murderers' row of top-flight offensive weapons.
Those results make it clear that reaching a moment of intense speed might not correlate as strongly to production as being able to consistently generate accelerations that opponents have to repeatedly account for.
Enter Nathan MacKinnon.
The center is known for his wheels but his top speed, while elite (96th percentile), doesn't crack the top of the leaderboards. But when it comes to "bursts" of speed — instances when a player sustains a speed above 18 mph — he's in a league of his own.
The Colorado Avalanche superstar has 155 bursts above 20 mph, which leads the NHL by a massive margin. The player second on the leaderboard (Brayden Point) only has 107.
Although there are a few players that may be able to best MacKinnon in some kind of straight-line race, the 28-year-old appears to be unmatched in the way he consistently uses his speed to put pressure on opposing defenses.